Uncertainty hangs over Maldives presidential elections

Friday, 18 October 2013 00:02 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Uditha Jayasinghe in Male Brooding clouds flow above the capital of the Maldives mirroring uncertainty over the presidential elections as candidates face a deadline till Friday morning to approve a crucial electoral list ahead of polling on Saturday, which threatens to plunge to Indian Ocean group of islands into more conflict. Party flags and decorations put up for 7 September polls play in the sea breeze and election rallies are still being held but citizens say political wrangling over the polls have marred enthusiasm. “Things are very quiet at the moment. We are all waiting to see whether voting will actually take place,” Male resident Hilmy Zainal told Daily FT. The doubts are whirling around the Elections Commission, which is on a marathon run to complete arrangements for fresh polling and transport ballot papers across 200 islands in just 12 days. But it is also hampered by two of the presidential candidates who are refusing to sign a crucial voting list, which could derail the fresh attempt at polling on 19 October. Elections Commissioner Fuad Thaufeeg told media presidential candidates contesting in the fresh presidential elections on Saturday will have till sunrise on Friday to sign the final voters’ list that will be dispatched to each polling station. Fuad emphasized that the lists will be made available to candidates sometime on Thursday evening after the registration forms of people wishing to vote outside their permanent address are processed and the deadline for submitting complaints ends. Whilst some re-registration forms are yet to be processed, the deadline for filing complaints over re-registration ended on Thursday evening. According to Fuad, after the re-registration process is completed, the commission will compile the lists that will be dispatched to each polling station. “Then we will forward the lists for the candidates to sign. We will invite the candidates to come down here [elections commission] to sign the lists. We will wait till sunrise to see if the candidates will sign the list. Because we will have to dispatch the lists to the polling stations tomorrow morning at the latest,” Fuad explained. Elections commission is yet to decide on a course of action if a candidate refuses to sign the voters’ list. Earlier this month the Maldives Supreme Court annulled the first round results of elections held on 7 September and ordered fresh polls after hearing a petition on allegations of electoral fraud made by third placed candidate Gasim Ibrahim’s Jumhoory Party (JP). In the 16-point guideline issued with the verdict, the highest court stated that in order for voting to commence in Maldives and abroad, the voter register must contain voter’s name, permanent address, and Identity Card number, and must be approved by the Elections Commission and the candidates or their representatives, and must be the final list containing their signatures and finger prints. No other lists must be used. In accordance with the guideline, the Elections Commission had used the Department of National Registration (DNR) database as the primary source in compiling the eligible voters’ list for the polls, which has now been forwarded to all candidates. Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on Thursday pointed out 0.61 percent issues with the eligible voters list for Saturday’s fresh presidential elections, but gave the green light for the list citing that the percentage was ‘negligible.’ However, the remaining two parties Jumhoory Party (JP) and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) with candidates contesting in the elections had insisted that more time was needed to review the list and stressed that their candidates will not sign the list unless it is validated. Former President Mohammad Nasheed, who was controversially ousted from power in February 2012 won the previous round of elections on 7 September before they were annulled paving the way for fresh elections. The political wrangling has raised concerns in India resulting in the Foreign Secretary hastening to Male for talks with the candidates and President Mohammad Waheed. Singh arrived in Male on Wednesday night for what analysts believe is a serious effort by India to ensure that presidential elections, which have been beset by legal wrangling, will go ahead on 19 October. Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh met candidates and their party heads on Thursday and is expected to meet President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, who has withdrawn from the race but has voiced concerns over the credibility of the polls that are expected to go ahead on Saturday. Waheed quit the re-election bid after getting just over five percent of the vote at the 7 September 7 elections, which were later cancelled by the country’s highest court. Waheed was humiliated during the first round, which was won by his predecessor Mohamed Nasheed who secured 45.45 percent of the vote in an election international observers including India said was free and fair. Singh will push for the vote to go ahead as scheduled, local media outlets reported. The third placed candidate, business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim, demanded that the first round be annulled by the Supreme Court, which ordered fresh elections under new voter. Second placed candidate was former autocratic President Abdul Gayoom’s half-brother Abdulla Yamin who polled 25.35 percent while Gasim got 24.07 percent. However, both Gasim and Yamin have expressed disappointment over the Elections Commission and alleged that it is not functioning in an independent manner.